Sustainability moves taking root

South Island tourism sustainability advocate Megan Williams uses technology to work as much as...
South Island tourism sustainability advocate Megan Williams uses technology to work as much as she can from her base in Wanaka. PHOTOS: KERRIE WATERWORTH

International arrivals to New Zealand are forecast to reach more than five million within five years and more and more of those travellers are likely to make purchases from travel companies based on their sustainable practises.

A year ago Tourism Industry Aotearoa appointed two advocates to encourage tourism operators to sign up to the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment.

Kerrie Waterworth spoke to South Island advocate Megan Williams.

Q What exactly is the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment?

It is made up of 14 commitments and eight industry goals and supports the tourism industry and operators to become more sustainable economically and environmentally, and also covers community and visitor sustainability. The tourist authority developed the sustainability commitment in conjunction with an industry panel from all around the country made up of large and small tourist businesses which already had an idea about sustainability. They based the commitment on the United Nations sustainability commitment goals, looked at all the systems around the world, distilled them down and made them fit for purpose here in New Zealand.

TIA launched it in November 2017, the year designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Q What sort of companies have signed up?

All sorts, from small fishing guide businesses all the way up to Air New Zealand, a wide variety.

Q Describe some of the changes companies have made since signing up to the TSC?

Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust receives funding from tourist operators wanting to offset their carbon...
Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust receives funding from tourist operators wanting to offset their carbon footprint which goes towards planting days.
Restoring the environment, measuring their carbon use, giving back to the community, it's not prescriptive.

When they sign up they agree to work towards 14 different commitments, but it doesn't mean they need to be doing them all instantly. In fact, over time they can be chipping away at those things.

Teaming up with the Department of Conservation is one way to do it. Eco Wanaka Adventures have been planting trees on Mou Waho Island Reserve on Lake Wanaka for the last 12 years, probably 14 years actually, and we have amazing businesses all around the Wanaka district either doing their own pest trapping programme, tree planting programme or donating money to current programmes. For example, Ridgeline Adventures have been donating to Te Kakano to partly offset some of their carbon emissions. We also have a lot of water-based businesses here in Wanaka who give to a variety of water projects including the Million Metres Streams Love Lake Wanaka because they may not have the time or capacity within their business to do something hands-on. We also have lots of businesses measuring their carbon footprint, trying to bring it down, and offsetting it. That might be as big as an event like Warbirds over Wanaka, which recently donated $20,000 to riparian planting around the district or small businesses investing in buying electric cars because they have identified their vehicle use is their largest carbon emitter.

Tourist operators in Wanaka attending a TIA Tourism Sustainability Commitment seminar conducted...
Tourist operators in Wanaka attending a TIA Tourism Sustainability Commitment seminar conducted by Megan Williams. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Q How do you find the various tourist companies and businesses?

We promote the sustainability commitment through a variety of channels, including membership of the tourist authority which is significant, but also through regional tourism organisations. It is great if the regional organisations are promoting sustainability as that gets the message out to every business in every region around the country.

We have had amazing success with some sectors that have made it compulsory for members to sign up to the commitment. The Top 10 holiday parks were the first organisation to have all of their members sign up and all the 80 i-SITE Visitor Information Centres around the country have made a significant commitment, encouraging visitors to give back to environmental projects and community projects in each place they visit.

Q Have you had any tourist operators ask you what sustainability means?

Not really, what has pleased me is that everyone gets it. There has been no resistance to joining, close to 1200 businesses have signed after just a year and a half of launching the commitment.

I think the timing was right, we've had a very high sustained period of growth and people can see the pressures on communities and the environment. Businesses have been very, very quick to commit either because they are already operating sustainably, or because they want some support using the tools on our website to do more.

Q Does the Tourism Industry Association check the tourist operators who have signed up to the commitment are operating sustainably?

No, there is no audit of businesses. If operators want to be audited, they can join Qualmark, which has a quality and environmental audit, or Enviromark. We wanted the whole industry to take part in the Tourism Sustainability Commitment and to have no barriers.

Q Do you have a target number of tourist operators that you are hoping will commit?

We are concentrating more on action now, enabling businesses and challenging them to do more.

We can't make the sustainability commitment compulsory for tourist operators but we can make it more of a given.

Q Is it difficult to be based in Wanaka when you have to cover the entire South Island?

No, not at all as a lot of my work is by email and telephone based. I do think about my own carbon footprint, so when I have to travel I always ask myself is it necessary or could I skype into that meeting? And when I do travel I make sure there are multiple meetings that I am attending.

Wanaka i-Site signed on early to the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment. Staff say...
Wanaka i-Site signed on early to the New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment. Staff say they have reduced printing and stationery use by 70%, try to communicate only digitally and always use reusable coffee cups.
Q What's the best part of your job?

Every day I can see where I am making a difference.

Q Has anyone from the Chatham Islands joined?

No, but Stewart Island tourist operators have, maybe Chatham Islands is the next challenge.

AT A GLANCE

• International visitor arrivals to New Zealand are forecast to reach 5.1million visitors in 2024, from  3.7million in 2017 (up 37.1%). This equates to a growth rate of 4.6% per year. New Zealand Tourism Forecast 2018-2024 MBIE

• Tourism is now New Zealand’s biggest export industry with total annual tourism expenditure over $107million per day.

• The New Zealand Tourism Sustainability Commitment establishes eight goals for the tourism industry to attain by 2025 and a voluntary self-reporting set of 14
commitments that individual businesses can achieve to reach those goals.

• In Wanaka 117 tourist companies and operators have signed the TSC commitment and 176 in Queenstown so far.

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